|Swarthmore's Parrish Hall|
In my youth I was awarded a scholarship by my own alma mater to be an overseas Exchange Student at Swarthmore, and my memories are fond ones.
I was perturbed to read, a few days ago, the following press release from Joshua Wolfsun, communications coordinator of the Swarthmore College Hillel chapter (which, incidentally, did not exist on campus in the far-off days when I was there):
'Unanimously adopted by Swarthmore Hillel Student Board, December 8, 2013
Whereas Hillel International prohibits partnering with, hosting, or housing anyone who (a) denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders, (b) delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel, (c) supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;
And whereas this policy has resulted in the barring of speakers from organizations such as Breaking the Silence and the Israeli Knesset from speaking at Hillels without censorship, and has resulted in Jewish Voice for Peace not being welcome under the Hillel umbrella;
And whereas this policy runs counter to the values espoused by our namesake, Rabbi Hillel, who was famed for encouraging debate in contrast with Rabbi Shammai;
And whereas Hillel, while purporting to support all Jewish Campus Life, presents a monolithic face pertaining to Zionism that does not accurately reflect the diverse opinions of young American Jews;
And whereas Hillel’s statement that Israel is a core element of Jewish life and a gateway to Jewish identification for students does not allow space for others who perceive it as irrelevant to their Judaism;
And whereas Hillel International’s Israel guidelines privilege only one perspective on Zionism, and make others unwelcome;
And whereas the goals of fostering a diverse community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be met when Hillel International’s guidelines are in place;
Therefore be it resolved that Swarthmore Hillel declares itself to be an Open Hillel; an organization that supports Jewish life in all its forms; an organization that is a religious and cultural group whose purpose is not to advocate for one single political view, but rather to open up space that encourages dialogue within the diverse and pluralistic Jewish student body and the larger community at Swarthmore; an organization that will host and partner with any speaker at the discretion of the board, regardless of Hillel International’s Israel guidelines; and an organization that will always strive to be in keeping with the values of open debate and discourse espoused by Rabbi Hillel.'As the ADL has observed, Jewish Voice for Peace
In the past few years, JVP has become a leader in the American anti-Israel movement and has assumed a particularly visible role in the renewed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.... Although JVP focuses on boycott and divestment campaigns that specifically target Israeli settlements and the "occupation," the group notes that it supports more radical BDS campaigns that call for a complete economic, academic and cultural boycott of Israel....
JVP, like other prominent Jewish anti-Zionist individuals and groups, uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and provide it with a greater degree of legitimacy and credibility. JVP even recognizes its role as such, noting on its Web site that it is "inspired by Jewish tradition" and that the group's Jewish nature gives it a "particular legitimacy in voicing an alternative view of American and Israeli actions and policies" and the ability to distinguish "between real anti-Semitism and the cynical manipulation of that issue."...'See also NGO Monitor's strictures here: the actual mission of JVP, NGO Monitor's exposure of the organisation warns, is to
'Drive a “wedge” in the Jewish community over Israel while mainstreaming boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaigns (BDS), so as to weaken U.S. support for Israel.'(More on JVP's mischief here - and, update, here)
Little wonder, then, that Eric Fingerhut, CEO of Hillel International, has sent the following robust statement to Joshua Wolfsun:
'Thank you for sending me your resolution and for your offer to engage in conversation. I believe that through discussion, as Hillel the Elder believed, comes learning that is meaningful and inspiring. However, unlike your email, which invites discussion and is welcome, your resolution simply states that the students at Swarthmore Hillel “will host and partner with any speaker at the discretion of the board, regardless of Hillel International’s Israel guidelines.” This position is not acceptable.
Hillel’s Israel guidelines, which were developed carefully with a broad coalition of our organization’s stakeholders, state: “Hillel welcomes a diversity of student perspectives on Israel and strives to create an inclusive, pluralistic community where students can discuss matters of interest and/or concern about Israel and the Jewish people in a civil manner.” Hillel is also, as the guidelines state, “steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders as a member of the family of nations.”
I hope you will inform your colleagues on the Student Board of Swarthmore Hillel that Hillel International expects all campus organizations that use the Hillel name to adhere to these guidelines. No organization that uses the Hillel name may choose to do otherwise.
Your resolution further includes the statement: “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.” This is simply not the case. Let me be very clear – “anti-Zionists” will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.
Hillel recognizes, of course, that “organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice” violate these guidelines may well be welcomed on campus, according to the policies of the particular college or university. The Hillel on campus, however, may not partner with or host such groups or speakers. This is entirely within our discretion as an organization, and we have clearly stated our intention to make these important decisions to protect our values and our critically important mission. Just as the university decides who will teach classes, and what organizations it will allow on campus, so Hillel will decide who will lead discussions in programs it sponsors and with whom it will partner.
In one of your resolution’s clauses, you invoke “the values espoused by our namesake, Rabbi Hillel, who was famed for encouraging debate in contrast with Rabbi Shammai.” Rabbi Hillel was famed for his openness to others, and his leniency in legal interpretation to advance tikkun olam – “repairing the world.” This spirit is strong in today’s American Jewry, and it is strong in the work of Hillel on every campus. However, Rabbi Hillel is perhaps more famous for his saying in Pirkei Avot, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”
We here at Hillel International hold firm to his legacy. We encourage debate and dissent, but we draw the line at hosting groups who would deny the right of the State of Israel to exist. We will stand with Israel, the democratic, open, pluralistic home of the Jewish people.
On that fundamental principle, we are unwavering.'Yisrael Medad has a droll take on this here